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Playbook PM: Biden will head to Houston, and the Tanden ‘double standard’ debate rages

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Presented by Google: POLITICO's must-read briefing on what's driving the afternoon in Washington.
Feb 23, 2021 View in browser
Playbook PM

By Ryan Lizza, Garrett Ross and Eli Okun

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BREAKING — “President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden to visit Houston,” KPRC

— Press secretary JEN PSAKI said Biden will meet Friday with local leaders about the devastating winter storm and visit a Covid-19 health center that’s distributing vaccines.

More from the Psaki briefing:

— Psaki announced that weekly vaccine distributions to states will again bump up — this time to 14.5 million doses. The retail pharmacy allocation will increase by 100,000 doses this week.

— On alternatives to NEERA TANDEN to run OMB: “There’s one candidate to lead the department and that’s Neera Tanden.” (On the Hill, Sen. LISA MURKOWSKI of Alaska, who is perhaps the only Republican who could still save Tanden, offered the White House a ray of hope, telling reporters she won’t make a decision until after a committee vote on Tanden on Wednesday. “I’ve got time,” she said.) Psaki declined to say whether the White House has reached out to Murkowski but noted, “We’re working the phones.”

Psaki was also asked whether Tanden is suffering from a “double standard” from Republicans and some Democrats who “have not held certain men to the same standard” as Tanden. Some Democrats and progressives have recently made the accusation, but Psaki wouldn’t bite.

Responding to the double standard argument, Republicans are circulating a list of female Trump nominees that Democrats opposed, including BETSY DEVOS (49 Democrats), GINA HASPEL (43), SEEMA VERMA (43), KELLY CRAFT (38), KIRSTJEN NIELSEN (37). “Are these Senate Democrats sexist?” asks MITCH MCCONNELL spokesman SCOTT SLOOFMAN. (We would note that the argument from the left, as explained in the POLITICO piece that set off this debate, is “that Tanden, who is of South Asian descent, was one of several nominees of color being treated differently than Trump-era nominees who lobbed personal attacks or expressed bigoted views.”)

— On the Biden administration’s response to Russia’s SolarWind hack: Action is coming in “weeks, not months.” More details from WaPo

HOW JAN. 6 HAPPENED — “Security officials in charge on Jan. 6 tell Congress conflicting stories,” by Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio: “In Tuesday testimony to two Senate committees, former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund said the Pentagon dragged its feet for hours on Jan. 6 — even after law enforcement officials pleaded for backup. …

“Sund and acting D.C. police chief Robert Contee described to senators a conference call that afternoon with senior security personnel during which a top Pentagon official, Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, said he would recommend against deploying the National Guard for fear of the ‘optics’ of armed troops in front of the Capitol. …

“Sund also told senators that the Capitol Police’s intelligence unit received a report from the FBI on the evening before the insurrection that warned of extremist groups preparing for ‘war.’ But Sund said that report never made it up the chain to him. [Then-House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul] Irving and Michael Stenger, the then-Senate sergeant-at-arms, said they also never saw it.”

— UP NEXT … @AndrewDesiderio: “NEWS: Klobuchar tells me that officials serving in the Pentagon at the time of the insurrection will testify next week about their response to the Capitol breach & allegations that they slow-walked National Guard approval. She declined to say which officials.”

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— NATIONAL JOURNAL’S @Zachary_Cohen: “The Senate votes 78-20 to confirm Amb. Linda Thomas-Greenfield as envoy to the U.N. Security Council. Senators are now voting to end the filibuster on her separate nomination to be ambassador to the U.N.'s General Assembly. She's slated to be confirmed to that too later today.”

— TIDBITS FROM TODAY’S GARLAND HEARING, via Josh Gerstein: “‘Judge Garland … He’s so hot.’ – D.C. Public Schools parent Andrea Tucker testifying Tuesday on the experts’ panel as part of the attorney general nominee’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Garland has tutored two of Tucker’s children, 11-year-old twins Aaron and Alyssa, for several years as part of a program at J.O. Wilson Elementary School in Northeast Washington. …

“Thom Tillis backs Garland: ‘I thought he did an extraordinary job in the hearing yesterday. … I fully intend to support his nomination.’ Tillis says he was watching on Webex Monday from North Carolina but missed his chance to ask ‘riveting’ Qs on intellectual property issues due to his travel schedule.”

“Biden health secretary pick Xavier Becerra faces contentious Senate hearings,” NBC

— THE HAALAND HEARING: “Haaland grilled over past criticism of Republicans at confirmation hearing,” CNN: “Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, confronted Haaland about a tweet from October 2020 in which she said that Republicans don’t believe in science. Barrasso pointed out that he and several other Republican members of the committee are medical doctors and called the remark ‘concerning.’

“‘Do you think that as medical doctors we don't believe in science? How do you stand by this statement,’ Barrasso asked. ‘Senator, yes, if you're a doctor, I would assume that you believe in science,’ Haaland replied. … An official with the confirmation process told CNN that Democrats are making the case for Haaland that focuses on her bipartisan legislative record and extensive work with public lands and wildlife.” AP: “Indian Country gripped by Haaland hearing for top U.S. post”

HOW THEY’LL VOTE — HUFFPOST’S @igorbobic: “Romney says Halaand and Tanden ‘present some real questions and challenges.’ ‘Still evaluating’ Becerra. He says he’s experienced but has concerns with his record on abortion.”

— INSIDER’S @KaylaEpstein: “Joe Manchin gets into an elevator after leaving Deb Haaland’s hearing. Lisa Murkowski rushed into join him. We’ve got the whole power of the senate right here, he remarks.”

KNOWING WILLIAM BURNS — “A ‘Back Channel’ Practitioner Tries Out for the CIA,” WSJ: “As a veteran U.S. diplomat, William J. Burns led secret negotiations with Iran and Libya over their weapons programs, served as ambassador in Jordan and Russia, oversaw U.S. relations with the Middle East and then ascended to the highest levels of the State Department.

“As the first career foreign service officer chosen to run the Central Intelligence Agency, he faces a different sort of challenge: guiding a spy agency that, former top intelligence officials say, finds itself at a pivot point. The widely respected Mr. Burns, 64, is expected to win easy approval as President Biden’s CIA director following his confirmation hearing scheduled Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.”

BTW … If you’re reading this, you probably received Tuesday’s inaugural edition of New York Playbook PM due to a production error. But, if you enjoyed it and would like to subscribe, you can do so here!


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MINIMUM WAGE LATEST — “Republican plan would raise minimum wage to $10 but only if businesses are required to ensure worker legality,” USA Today: “Backers of the Romney-Cotton bill, called the Higher Wages for American Workers Act, say a $10 wage phased in through 2025 (and then indexed to inflation after that) would cost no more than 100,000 jobs and would raise wages for approximately 3.5 million Americans.

“And by mandating E-Verify within 18 months of the law’s signing, they say the proposal ‘would preserve American jobs for legal workers and remove incentives for increased illegal immigration.’” The highlights

THAT BUBBLE POPPED FAST! — “David Perdue won’t mount comeback bid for U.S. Senate in 2022,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “‘This is a personal decision, not a political one,’ he said in an email to supporters. … [P]eople close to Perdue also stressed that he didn’t relish the campaign trail and would be happy in retirement at his Sea Island estate. And even some of his closest allies were surprised he floated the idea. …

“In his note to backers, Perdue insisted ‘Georgia is not a blue state’ because he amassed more votes than [Jon] Ossoff in November. And he called on state lawmakers to ‘correct the inequities in our states laws and election rules,’ echoing false claims of widespread voter fraud that he and other Georgia Republicans promoted.”

— MAGGIE HABERMAN (@maggieNYT): “Perdue had dinner with and played a long round of golf with Trump last week. It did not go well. Two ppl briefed on the meetings said Trump was very focused on McConnell and Kemp and retribution. One person close to Perdue says that wasn’t related to his decision. The person close to Perdue says ultimately he and his wife couldn’t get comfortable with another campaign.”

2024 WATCH — “Kristi Noem gets a Trump-hosted fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago,” by Daniel Lippman

THE SUPPLY CHALLENGE — “Vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna pledge massive boost to U.S. supply after sluggish rollout,” WaPo: “Drug companies planned to tell lawmakers Tuesday that they project a major increase in vaccine deliveries that will result in 140 million more doses over the next five weeks, saying they have solved manufacturing challenges and are in a position to overcome scarcity that has hampered the nation’s fight against the coronavirus. …

“But achieving a surge on that scale remains daunting. … Two other Biden administration officials said it was unlikely that 220 million vaccine doses would be distributed by the end of March.”

“After Billions of Dollars and Dozens of Wartime Declarations, Why Are Vaccines Still in Short Supply?” Kaiser Health News

GUN MOVEMENT ON THE MARGINS — “Biden considers regulating ‘ghost guns,’ other executive actions to curb gun violence,” by Anita Kumar and Laura Barrón-López: “[S]ome activists are upset that after one month in office the administration has yet to set a firm timeline or provide specifics about it’s overarching plan. Among the executive actions under consideration by the administration is one that would require buyers of so-called ghost guns — homemade or makeshift firearms that lack serial numbers — to undergo background checks …

“[T]he White House is likely to stick with campaign promises to support legislation [instead of executive action] to close the Charleston loophole, as well as measures designed to keep guns away from people believed to be a danger to themselves or others and to establish safety storage standards for firearms.”

A FAMILIAR STORY — “This Congress is the most diverse ever. But Hill staffers remain overwhelmingly white,” by Maya King: “Despite efforts to diversify the Hill over the last several years, the racial makeup of House and Senate staffs don't align with their districts and voting bases. Among top-level staffers, the lack of diversity is most striking: there is only one Black chief of staff in the Senate and only four Latinos. …

“The makeup of staff affects the shape and direction of legislation — and the lack of diversity crosses party lines. If staffers don’t represent the communities they are meant to serve, advocates say, it undermines lawmakers’ attempts to solve the issues unique to those communities.”


OUR NEW YORK PLAYBOOK IS EXPANDING TO 2X DAILY: Our Empire State must-read, New York Playbook, is expanding at the height of the legislative session and the New York City mayoral race. Now you can get all of the news you need to know from the Capitol in Albany to New York City Hall and everything in between twice per day in New York Playbook AM and our new New York Playbook PM edition. Don't miss out. Subscribe today.


IRAN SO FAR AWAY — “Iran Limits Access to Nuclear Sites but Open to Talks With U.S.,” WSJ: “Citing the U.S. refusal to lift sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, Iran said it would no longer grant United Nations inspectors daily access to its nuclear facilities, or provide round-the-clock security footage of its activities at these sites. Iran will also bar the U.N. atomic agency from inspecting other sites where it suspects nuclear-related work might be taking place. …

“Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said Tuesday that Iran was ‘looking into the European side’s proposal of an informal meeting for a dialogue’ [with the U.S.].”

THE U.S. GETS SOME BACKUP — “China Faces European Obstacles as Some Countries Heed U.S. Pressure,” WSJ: “Governments from the Baltic to the Adriatic seas have recently canceled public tenders that Chinese state-owned companies were set to win, or are moving to ban Chinese companies from investing or contracting in their countries.

“The shifts have been prompted by a mix of national-security concerns and disappointment with the performance of Chinese contractors … The shift is largely taking place in smaller European countries.”

LIKE HE NEVER LEFT — “In backing South Carolina GOP chair, Trump remains active,” AP: “Trump is endorsing South Carolina’s GOP chairman Drew McKissick for a third term, wading not only into state-level politics but also playing a role in maintaining the local party framework in places that backed his presidency.

“‘He asked if I had anybody running against me, and I said, “No, and I’m trying to keep it that way,”’ McKissick told The Associated Press on Monday, describing his call with Trump more than a week ago. ‘He said, “Yeah, that’s the best way to do it.”’” McKissick’s tweet with Trump’s handwritten endorsement

CRUZ CONTROL — “Ted Cruz says wife Heidi is ‘pretty pissed’ over leaked Cancun texts,” N.Y. Post: “The Texas GOPer addressed his PR nightmare of a trip to Mexico on the podcast ‘Ruthless’ … Cruz noted that he has a mix of Republican and Democrat neighbors in his exclusive River Oaks neighborhood in Houston — and said the leak was a sign of ‘how ridiculously politicized and nasty’ people can get. ‘Here’s a suggestion: just don’t be a–holes,’ he continued. ‘Like, just, you know, treat each other as human beings have some degree, some modicum of respect.’”

WHAT STEVEN MNUCHIN IS UP TO — “Trump’s former treasury secretary expected to launch investment fund, seeking backing of Persian Gulf state funds,” WaPo: “The fund, based in Washington, would focus on areas including financial technology and entertainment, among other potential sectors.”

BLOOMABILITY — “Bloomberg’s 2020 aides got an unwelcome surprise in their tax forms,” by Chris Cadelago: “In recent weeks, aides to the former Democratic candidate started receiving tax forms that in some cases list incomes that are tens of thousands of dollars more than they were compensated in salary. The added amounts account for paid housing and other generous benefits they received last year, but the price tag is coming to many as an unwelcome surprise. …

“In some instances, Bloomberg representatives have assured the aides that the additional taxes they now owe the government were taken care of by the campaign. … Staffers raised concerns that the bloated gross incomes they have to declare in their taxes will cause them to lose out on a long list of government programs and benefits.”

VALLEY TALK — “Facebook refriends Australia after last-minute changes to media code,” Sydney Morning Herald: “Facebook has agreed with Seven West Media to pay for news content and has restarted negotiations with Nine Entertainment Co, after the social media giant agreed to reverse its ban on news on its Australian site.”

MEDIAWATCH — WAPO’S PAUL FARHI (@farhip): “Some internal news: @washingtonpost publisher Fred Ryan has named managing editor Cameron Barr to serve as acting executive editor while the search for a permanent successor to editor Marty Baron continues, Ryan said in a staff memo today. Marty’s last day as editor is Feb. 28.”

— Mike Emanuel is moving up to become chief Washington correspondent for Fox News. Jacqui Heinrich will become a congressional correspondent.

BOOK CLUB — “Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny co-writing mystery novel,” AP: “Clinton is teaming up with her friend, the novelist Louise Penny, on ‘State of Terror,’ which has a plot that might occur to someone of Clinton’s background: A ‘novice’ secretary of state, working in the administration of a rival politician, tries to solve a wave of terrorist attacks. The novel comes out Oct. 12, and will be jointly released by Clinton’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, and Penny’s, St. Martin’s Press.”

TRANSITIONS — Marriott International is adding Eric Johnston as director of federal affairs and Scott Greenberg as manager of state and local government affairs. Johnston was previously at Coca-Cola Consolidated. Greenberg was previously at American Beverage.

BONUS BIRTHDAY: Elisha Krauss, Washington Examiner contributor and host of Newsmakers


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